Trapper and Girallon Tactics

These two monsters have nothing to do with each other except that (a) they’re the last two monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters that I planned to look at and hadn’t yet, and (b) neither one is all that interesting. Although, to my surprise, the one I thought would be more interesting turned out not to be interesting at all, while the one I thought would be less interesting turned out to be a little more so.

The trapper is a great deal like the cloaker, in that it hunts by wrapping itself around its victims’ heads so that they can’t see or breathe, but it lacks the cloaker’s mobility. In its hunting strategy, it’s more like a roper, slow but stealthy, using False Appearance to hide itself until prey comes within reach.

It has both darkvision and blindsight, making it most at home in total darkness—in other words, underground. The Spider Climb trait allows it to lurk on ceilings and walls as well as floors, whatever is most likely to put it within easy reach of a meal (if it’s on a ceiling, it can wait for a creature to pass below, then drop before trying to smother it). On the ground or against a wall, it’s stuck preying on creatures that walk right past it, but on the ceiling, it can hang out 30 to 35 feet up and easily detect even hidden creatures that pass directly beneath it, thanks to its blindsight. False Appearance ensures that it won’t be spotted at these distances, even by creatures with darkvision.

Even if it didn’t have an Intelligence of only 2, the trapper literally has only one method of attack: the Smother action. When it takes this action against another creature, that creature must make a Dexterity saving throw or be grappled, restrained, blinded and “at risk of suffocating.” What does that last bit mean? It means, per “Suffocating” in chapter 8 of the Player’s Handbook, that a creature that’s out of breath can survive for a number of rounds equal to its Constitution modifier (minimum 1), at which point it passes out and has to start making death saves. Does a player character enveloped by a trapper get to hold its breath, allowing it to remain conscious for minutes rather than seconds? Not, I’d say, if it’s surprised, which the target of a trapper nearly always will be. (Just as with the cloaker’s Bite attack, the trapper’s Smother action becomes a total non-threat if the target gets the chance to take a breath.)

The trapper is looking for a meal, and it’s not equipped to drag that meal away to enjoy it someplace else, so it’s going to keep its target enveloped until they’re not merely unconscious but dead. However, it doesn’t want that meal badly enough to risk its own life over it, so it spits out its meal and slithers away if it’s moderately wounded (59 hp or fewer). As slow as it is, its best escape plan is to Dash straight up a wall and along the ceiling.

It’s probably clear by now that the name “trapper” is three letters too long. This beastie is an obstacle, not an enemy. Its function is to rob PCs of hit points that they’ll wish they still had later on.

The girallon is a four-armed ape of below-ape-average intelligence. Its physical ability scores are all impressively high, allowing it to fight either as a brute (melee slugfest) or as a shock attacker (swift melee strike, retreat, strike again). Its Multiattack gives it five attack rolls per turn. Why should it do anything but charge and maul?

That’s what I thought at first, but upon closer inspection, there are ways to juice girallons’ effectiveness a little. Consider the following:

  • Their speed is 40 feet, whether it’s walking or climbing. The climbing speed means girallons are at home in 3-D environments—forests, rocky cliffs, ruins and the like. The number means girallons are faster than most PCs in a straight chase.
  • The Aggressive feature allows girallons, like orcs, to effectively Dash toward their opponents as a bonus action, meaning they can initiate combat from a distance of up to twice their movement—potentially, beyond the sensory range of an opponent with darkvision.
  • Girallons’ darkvision is also capped at 60 feet, but they have Keen Smell, and in fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons, the sense of smell isn’t limited by distance. (Some real-world creatures, such as bears and elephants, can distinguish smells from miles away.) In pitch darkness, which is equivalent to dim light under darkvision, most creatures must roll with disadvantage to see a hidden foe, but thanks to Keen Smell, girallons roll with advantage to detect other creatures. In other words, they can lurk at a distance of 65 to 80 feet from likely prey, completely invisible to them and inaudible as well (the maximum audible distance of a creature trying to be quiet, per the Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated, is only 60 feet), sniff them out, then come barreling in to attack with surprise.

Girallons have a predator’s normal self-preservation instinct, but the Aggressive trait suggests that they may stay in the fight even if their intended prey fights back. However, a moderate wound (18 damage or more from a single attacker) seems like a good decision point at which a girallon might opt to behave more like a shock attacker than a brute, backing off temporarily to see what its prey does, then attacking again if they show any sign of weakness (that an animal might recognize). Lacking the Intelligence to Disengage, retreating girallons Dash away, easily outrunning most foes who might try to pursue.

If a girallon is seriously wounded (reduced to 23 hp or fewer), it retreats for real and doesn’t come back.

Next: meazels.


15 thoughts on “Trapper and Girallon Tactics”

  1. It may be worth noting that the girallon can technically only use its Agressive trait against a “hostile” creature, a condition which may not be satisfied if the creature it’s attacking doesn’t know it’s there. On the other hand, I’m all for making monsters as distinct and interesting as possible, so I might go ahead and use that tactic anyway.

    1. That’s super weird since surely you’d think it was the *girallon’s* hostility that matters, not the other creature’s. Maybe the trait should be rephrased to “a creature toward which the girallon (or orc or whatever) is hostile”. As written it would seem to require the girallon to be telepathic or the players to show clear signs of hostility before combat even begins…which a clever player could use to their advantage—“oh it’s running towards me? Hi there big fella! Who’s a good four-armed apebomination?”

      Actually on second though that’s adorable and I’m 100% ok with a player doing that.

      1. Hostility is defined in the DMG as opposing a creature and its goals. I think most creatures are opposed to anyone or anything that wants to maul them, as well as to the goal of mauling them.

        1. The last sentence was pure gold. <3

          One question: let´s say in a pitch dark underground ruin with plenty of columns and statues to climb on, how would the girallon hide itself to do shock attacks? It clearly has the upper hand with its keen smell and know the targets location even when hiding behind columns, but would it be stealthy enough to be silently moving around the room?

          1. It has no stealth proficiency so no, not likely. The PCs would probably be able to hear “something” in the darkness, but even the best of perception checks would only yield “heavy steps and breathing.” Of course it can always get lucky and roll a high stealth check, but that’s outside the norm. The PCs could get equally lucky and roll high perception. Best to consider the average scenario.

          2. Lol whoops I take all that back, it does have stealth proficiency, I mixed it up with tomb of annihilation’s girallon zombie which doesn’t. My bad. It’s a sneak.

        2. Right… but can you be opposed to something you don’t know is there?

          Semantics aside, a closer re-reading of Aggressive reveals another wrinkle in its wording: the girallon does specifically have to see the target, which would seemingly require a sight-based check as opposed to a scent-based one.

          On the other hand, they are weirdly proficient in Stealth for creatures of their size. You could say they smell the PCs coming outside the range of darkvision, Hide in the dense underbrush, and then ambush the PCs as they pass by.

          1. but the girallon can use it’s first 40′ move to get within it’s darkvision range then use aggressive to close the rest of the way. but this does lead to in interesting thought; if the party is hiding the girallon can’t charge them. so it charges out of hiding only to not spot the food it could smell and just ends up wandering around sniffing the air, sad and confused.

  2. I’m sorry I explained myself poorly. I was trying to reply to J’nanin, saying that a creature can’t use aggressive without sight (which it can’t) by pointing out that the girallon can just move into sight then activate aggressive with a bonus action to charge (for the same outcome as you said in your post).

    That thought then got tangled with a second thought, that in an edge scenario all the PCs are hiding (and did well enough that the grillion could only smell not see them) and so couldn’t activate aggressive, his would lead to- following the beats you outlined- the girallon would smell them (though hiding in the PHB doesn’t specify anything about smell, just calling out sight and noise or at least I couldn’t see any reference) and attack from 65-80′ moving a full move into sight range (specifically to 25-40′) but then (as said before) can’t use aggressive to close on the PCs it knows are there so nullifying the surprise. I would describe this to my players as the girallon charging out of the dark only to slow down when it can’t see a target and knuckle forward two hands raised to attack the first thing is sees (attack prepped); this works as both an interesting quirk of the aggressive rules and also to reward a party that spect into stealth so that they can all hide from a +3. not boring, an interesting edge case.

  3. I can’t remember the conditions that let a monster substitute a grapple or a shove for a multiattack action — is the girallon able to do that, or would it have to give up it’s *entire* multiattack to, say, Aggressive as a bonus action towards a couple stragglers, grapple two of them (carrying capacity of 540 lbs), then drag them away (or up a tree) and start whaling on them in the dark?

    1. Even if they can’t substitute, it might still be worth it if there’s somewhere to climb if they can surprise on the players, and they are ambush attackers.

      A hard encounter for 4 level 5 players is two girallons; both wait out of sight until the players move in, then charge — if they’re next to a big guy they just start smashing, if they’re next to a little guy they grab him and climb up a tree; even with their speed halved from the grapple, they’re still faster at climbing than the players, and the higher they get the less optimal actually killing them becomes.

      I expect they’re not savvy enough to only try to grab a surprised player (or distinguish between a seemingly frail halfling monk and an actually frail elf wizard), but even if they did something like this on autopilot, it might make them more interesting than just big dumb smashers.

      1. They need to use their full action to grapple. A multiattack that names specific attacks, like a Fist attack or Bite attack, cannot be used for grappling or shoving or disarming. Only if the multiattack description uses the generic “melee attack” can a creature multiattack to grapple.

        1. Yeah, that makes sense, I think a monster with five attacks like this that could grapple or shove with any of them would probably be much more difficult.

          Still think it might sometimes be worth it to forgo the multiattack and drag a wizard up a tree though, maybe I’ll run a session with them and try it out.

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